May 06, 2015      

Melonee Wise and her Fetch Robotics startup have introduced a robotics warehouse system specifically designed for the logistics industry. The company is lining up pilot customers and expects to ship its first robots in early June.

The Fetch Robotics system consists of a mobile base called “Freight” and an advanced mobile manipulator named “Fetch.”

“Fetch and Freight are buddy robots working together on automated tasks with the ability to interact with people,” said Wise, CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Fetch Robotics. “We are focusing on real-world working solutions utilizing robots.”

Fetch and Freight robots in the warehouse

Fetch and Freight can work together or with humans.

Fetch is an advanced mobile manipulator whose features include a telescoping spine with a variable height, a 3-D RGB depth sensor, and a pan-tilt head. It also uses the Robot Operating System (ROS).

“Fetch has the capability to lift 6 kilograms [approximately 13 pounds]. That’s a lot of weight. It is definitely designed for logistics,” said Wise.

Freight, also ROS-enabled, is a modular base that can be used separately or with Fetch. Its features include a 2-D laser scanner, a stereo speaker, and a computer access panel. It supports payloads up to 150 pounds.

Both Fetch and Freight can use a charging dock for autonomous continuous operations. This allows the robots to charge when needed and then continue their tasks. Accompanying software supports the robots and integrates with the warehouse environment.

Wise declined to give a price tag for the Fetch system, but she had previously said it would be “tens of thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands.”

Targeting order fulfillment
Fetch Robotics is targeting the logistics market, said Wise. That market is estimated at more than $1.33 trillion annually in the U.S., with a growth rate of 4 percent each year.

Wise said the growth of e-commerce is compelling retailers to invest to meet the new “on-demand economy.” Robots are an integral part of fulfillment efficiency.

The robots are designed to work autonomously alongside workers, performing repetitive tasks such as warehouse delivery and pick and pack. Used in tandem, Wise said Fetch and Freight are capable of handling the majority of items in a typical warehouse.

An alumna of Willow Grove, Wise won the RoboBusiness 2013 Pitchfire competition for startups for Unbounded Robotics’ open-source UBR-1 robot. That company closed in 2014 due to unspecified business problems. Wise and her core team of roboticists have reassembled at Fetch Robotics.

“A mobile manipulator is a mobile manipulator,” said Wise. “Some basic features are the same as UBR-1, but it is a completely different robot from the ground up.”

“Most solutions in the robotics market rely on bolted static arms. Fetch’s arm is a mobile manipulator able to move around. There are no other companies doing that,” Wise said. “Freight does have some competitors. Both Fetch and Freight are platforms for which we continue to look for ways to extend their capabilities.”

A research model is also planned.

Fetch Robotics still growing
Earlier this year, Fetch Robotics received a total of $3 million in funding from Shasta Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif., and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures in San Francisco. “We’ve only been around seven-and-a-half months. We are still a growing company,” said Wise.

Fetch Robotics currently has 14 employees and expects to add five interns this summer. The company also has postings for a half-dozen positions on its website. “We are in a hiring mode. We are looking to grow the company,” Wise said. “Five years down the road, we may begin to look at other industries beyond logistics.”

Fetch Robotics was founded as startup FYS Systems (for “Fetch Your Stuff”) by Steve Hogan of technology incubator Tech-Rx, with the intent of advancing the state of the art for service robotics. Wise and her core team from Unbounded Robotics saw a posting for it on Robotics Worldwide last August seeking “Robotics Gurus and Extreme Experts” and applied. Upon joining FYS Systems, the company evolved into Fetch Robotics.